Certain foods can contribute to constipation by either lacking fiber, containing high levels of fat, or including other nutrients that can obstruct normal digestive processes.
We’re delving into a topic that may make you feel uncomfortable. Constipation occurs when you experience infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stool.
Typically, constipation is characterized by having fewer than three bowel movements per week, struggling to pass stool, or experiencing a sense of incomplete evacuation.
Symptoms such as bloating, stomach pain or discomfort, and feeling “backed up” often accompany constipation. It can be a chronic condition requiring medical attention or a temporary issue caused by factors like consuming constipating foods.
Unless there are underlying medical conditions, here are three common reasons why you might be experiencing constipation:
- Dehydration: Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT, explains that drinking sufficient fluids is crucial for efficient fiber function in the digestive tract. Insufficient fluid intake can lead to constipation.
- Lack of exercise: Inactivity or prolonged periods of sitting can slow down the digestive system and contribute to constipation. Conversely, regular exercise helps stimulate bowel movements.
- Increased fiber intake: Jennifer Wilfong, MA, RD, CSP, LD, FAND, advises gradually increasing your fiber intake by consuming more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. However, it’s essential to drink plenty of fluids to avoid constipation.
In addition, consuming foods that are high in fat, low in fiber, or have a dehydrating effect can also cause constipation.
A diet high in fiber and low in fluids is not the sole reason for feeling backed up. Surprisingly, specific foods may be responsible for slowing down your digestion.
11 Foods That Make You Constipated
Red meat is frequently rich in total fat, lacks fiber, and may be seasoned with salt. According to registered dietitian Lindsay Ducharme RD, CSR, LDN, “A diet that includes a high amount of red meat has been linked to constipation. Animal-based foods such as red meat have a limited fiber content.
Additionally, red meat is typically high in fat, contributing to a feeling of fullness and leaving less space for fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”
While persimmons are delightful and nutritious fruits, they fall into foods that can cause constipation. The tannin content in persimmons, particularly the astringent variety, can slow the digestive process and contribute to constipation.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, suggests that individuals experiencing constipation should moderate their consumption of astringent persimmons.
The combination of ingredients commonly found in cakes, which are high in fat and low in fiber, can hurt digestion and contribute to constipation. Fat is a macronutrient that takes significant time to digest, and cakes typically contain a substantial amount of fat.
Additionally, these cakes often consist of high-sugar, low-fiber ingredients that can have a dehydrating effect.
The combination of slowed digestion and dehydration creates an unfavorable situation for those already prone to constipation, making it more likely to occur.
While the salty crunch of certain foods can be tempting, it’s important to note that they may not be beneficial for digestion, especially if you experience constipation.
Salt dehydrates water, causing water to be drawn away from the gastrointestinal tract and potentially slowing the digestive process.
Increasing your water intake and incorporating lower-sodium options into your diet are recommended to maintain a balance if you opt for salty foods.
“Dairy products can potentially contribute to constipation, especially in individuals with lactose intolerance. Although research in adults is limited, growing evidence links lactose intolerance and constipation in children.
Around 30% of individuals who experience lactose intolerance and functional constipation also report constipation symptoms,” explains Dani Lebovitz, MS, RDN, a food and nutrition education expert based in Franklin, TN, and founder of Kid Food Explorers.
It may be beneficial to explore alternative options to dairy to manage constipation symptoms and support regular bowel movements for improved digestive comfort.
Choosing dairy-free alternatives such as flax, oat, almond, or coconut milk can provide potential relief and help maintain a healthy digestive system, adds Lebovitz.
While it may be disappointing, it’s worth noting that chocolate can contribute to constipation. In a study conducted in Germany, chocolate was frequently mentioned as a possible cause of constipation.
This can be attributed to the high-fat content in chocolate, which can slow down the digestive process and impede food movement through the gastrointestinal tract, explains Brittany DeLaurentis, MPH, RD, CSO, LD.
Eating excessive quantities of fried and fast foods can play a role in constipation as they tend to be low in fiber and high in fat and salt.
Opting for these less nutritious choices instead of nutrient-dense meals and snacks can reduce overall fiber consumption, cautions Julie Balsamo, MS, RDN.
While increasing fiber intake is beneficial for managing constipation, it’s essential to be cautious. Adding too much fiber too quickly can worsen constipation as your body adjusts to the increased intake, warns Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, an Intuitive Eating Dietitian for Moms.
Although fiber helps maintain regularity, an excessive amount at once can have the opposite effect, especially if you need to be adequately hydrating to support the movement of bowels through the intestines.
Foods that are not naturally high in fiber, such as cookies, brownies, granola or energy bars, cereals, crackers, or protein powders, may contain added fiber, which can be problematic. Ingredients like inulin, chicory root, or psyllium are indicators of added fiber.
While small amounts of these ingredients are generally tolerable, excessive consumption can cause issues, cautions Anzlovar.
Chrissy Barth, MS, RDN, RYT further emphasizes the delicate balance of fiber intake. “High-fiber foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and fortified foods benefit your health.
However, a sudden increase in fiber can lead to intestinal gas, abdominal bloating, cramping, and constipation. Gradually increase your fiber intake over a few weeks to allow your digestive system to adapt.”
Alcohol can contribute to constipation as it dehydrates the body, reducing the water available for smooth bowel movements.
Additionally, when consuming alcohol, it is common to consume foods high in fat and sodium, which can further exacerbate constipation, explains Amanda Sauceda, MS, RD.
Sweets and processed foods are known culprits for causing constipation. These food choices are typically low in fiber and fluids while high in fat and processed sugar, leading to sluggish digestion and a delay in gut motility.
As Wan Na Chun, MPH, RD, CPT explained, such foods include pastries, cookies, frozen meals, potato chips, pretzels, and other processed snacks.
Instead, it is recommended to focus on consuming more high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while minimizing or avoiding the intake of sweets and processed foods.
Chun adds that this dietary approach can help promote regular bowel movements and prevent constipation.
White bread and similar products made with refined flour can be a factor in constipation due to their low fiber content.
Additionally, these products often contain added sodium and sugar, which can contribute to dehydration. White bread-based products such as cookies, pastries, bread, and donuts can all play a role.
If you consume these products, it’s important to stay adequately hydrated by drinking plenty of water and balance your choices throughout the day by incorporating higher fiber options into your diet.